The Three Stages of Language Faux Pas

8 thoughts on “The Three Stages of Language Faux Pas”

  1. I’m a native speaker of Czech, and moved to Canada when I was 8 years old. I was walking with my mother, speaking in Czech since she did not yet speak English well enough to not be embarased and as I was buying some gloves in a department store, I said something about the gloves to my mother. Standing next to us was a nice middle aged English lady, who actually stepped back two paces and looked shocked at my mother, as my mother replied in Czech, as we are want to do, when saying the equivalent of “is that right. My very cultured looking Mother replied to me, for all to hear – Fakt? Which of course sound exactly like a common English phrase expected only from vulgar teens., not spoken loudly to children.

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  2. I have tons of stories about screwing up in Czech! 😀

    Very early on in my time here, I went into a supermarket armed only with a very basic phrase book to back me up and the few words it gave me to work with in the context of grocery shopping. I had put particular emphasis on remembering “Hledam…” (I’m looking for….)

    I found almost everything I was looking for, but wanted to buy some fruit as well. The shop was an odd shape and the produce section wasn’t visible from where I was standing. All the signs around me were text only and none really matched up to my phrase book. I found a grocery clerk and our exchange went roughly like this:

    Me: “Dobry den. Hledam ovce.”
    Her: (with stunned look) “Neprodate ovce.”
    Me: (slightly taken aback) “Nemate ovce, jako jablko a pomeranc?”
    Her: (quite bemused) “Ahhh! Hledate ov-O-ce! Pojdte za mnou.”

    Me: “Good day. I’m looking for sheep.”
    Her: “We don’t sell sheep.
    Me: “You don’t have sheep, like apple and orange?”
    Her: “Ahhh! You’re looking for fruit! Come with me.”

    I’ve NEVER forgotten how close sheep and fruit are in Czech thanks to that incident.

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    1. I literally laughed out loud. Thanks for sharing! 😀
      I definitely have some like this but I’m wracking my brain and can’t remember at the moment… but yes, the supermarket is full of faux pas. Be especially wary of sýrový and syrový 😛

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